Seven people are dead after a World War II-era B-17 bomber crashed and burned at an airport in the United States.
- Seven people were killed and six hospitalised when a World War II-era Flying Fortress plane crashed in Connecticut
- The plane was a few minutes into its flight when it encountered trouble gaining altitude and lost control
- The vintage B-17 bomber is one of the most celebrated allied planes of World War II
The plane was carrying 13 people when it encountered mechanical problems on take-off near Hartford, Connecticut.
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress returned to Bradley International Airport within 10 minutes of take-off after pilots reported “some type of problem”, but it lost control on the runway and struck a maintenance facility and tanks of de-icing fluid, Connecticut Airport Authority executive director Kevin Dillon said.
The four-engine, propeller-driven plane was carrying 10 passengers and three crew members.
Seven people died in the crash and six others were hospitalised with injuries ranging from minor to critical, said Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection commissioner James Rovella.
Witnesses saw a “big ball of orange fire” before plumes of smoke filled the air. (AP: Antonio Arreguin)
He said some of those on board were burned, and “the victims are very difficult to identify”.
Mr Rovella said the death toll could rise, but that some lives were likely saved by the efforts of bystanders, including a person who raced to help the victims as well as passengers on the plane who helped others escape the fire by opening a hatch.
“You’re going to hear about some heroic efforts from some of the individuals that were in and around that plane,” he said.
The retired, civilian-registered plane was associated with the Collings Foundation, an educational group that brought its Wings of Freedom vintage aircraft display to the airport this week.
The vintage bomber — one of the most celebrated allied planes of World War II — was used to take history buffs and aircraft enthusiasts on short flights, during which they could get up and walk around the loud and windy interior.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of 10 to investigate the cause of the crash.
The plane was a few minutes into the flight when the pilots reported a problem and said it was not gaining altitude, officials said.
It lost control upon touching down and struck the shed just before 10:00am.
Seven of the 13 people on board the plane were killed, and authorities say the death toll could rise. (AP: Jessica Hill)
Flight records show the plane had travelled about 3 kilometres and reached an altitude of 244 metres.
In recordings of audio transmissions, the pilot told an air traffic controller that he needed to return to the airport and land immediately.
Asked why, he said: “Number four engine, we’d like to return and blow it out.”
Brian Hamer, of Norton, Massachusetts, said he was less than 2 kilometres away when he saw a B-17, “which you don’t normally see”, fly directly overhead, apparently trying without success to gain altitude.
One of the engines began to sputter, and smoke came out the back, Mr Hamer said.
Boeing-built B-17 Flying Fortresses were used in daylight bombing raids against Germany during the war, and are popular among aviation enthusiasts (AP: Rich Pedroncelli)
“Then we heard all the rumbling and the thunder, and all the smoke comes up, and we kind of figured it wasn’t good,” he said.
Antonio Arreguin, who had parked at a construction site near the airport, said he did not see the plane but heard the explosion and could feel the heat from “this big ball of orange fire” several hundred metres away.
The same plane also crashed in 1987 at an air show near Pittsburgh, injuring several people, the Collings Foundation said.
Hit by a severe crosswind as it touched down, the bomber overshot a runway and plunged down a hill. It was later repaired.
With a wing span of 32 metres, the Flying Fortresses helped battle the Nazis in World War II. (AP: John David Mercer)
The crash reduces to nine the number of B-17s actively flying, said Rob Bardua, spokesman for the National Museum of the US Air Force, near Dayton, Ohio.
The planes —23 metres long, with a wingspan of 32 metres — were used in daylight bombing raids against Germany during the war.
The missions were extremely risky, with high casualty rates, but helped break the Nazis’ industrial war machine.
The B-17 that went down was built in 1945, too late to see combat in the war, according to the Collings Foundation.